Judy Countess of Strafford 1932 – 2018

St Mary’s Easton was packed full for the Thanksgiving Service to celebrate the life of Judy Countess of Strafford on Friday 18th May 2018.

The service was led by Revd. Jan Brookshaw.  The music before the service included In Paradisum – Requiem by Faure.  The  hymns the Lord’s my Shepherd and Dear Lord and Father of Mankind were sung and the words of The Buddha on Loving-Kindness were read by Daniel.  1 Corinthians 13 was the Bible reading.  There were reflections from all the children including this one from Emma:

Reflections from Emma

Fantastic to see so many family and friends of Judy here today, and so colourful. Judy would be thrilled.  For her life was all about colour and creativity. Not just her beautiful paintings but in the way she lived her life.

One of my mother’s fears in her final days was that she would be forgotten.  As if…..as if we could ever forget Judy.

I wanted to bring to you a few stories about her life.  

Let’s go back to the beginning.  She was brought up in Brighton.  As a child, like Harry Potter, she slept in the cupboard under the stairs. Not because she had a wicked uncle and aunt, but because in wartime Brighton, during the Blitz, that was the safest place to sleep during an air raid. And so she used to climb into the cupboard, with her teddy, Rupert (still upstairs in the attic), and her older sister Ann (who sadly cant be with us today).  Ann reminded me that their dog, Billy, was also in the cupboard with them, and he was absolutely terrified!

Mum used to recall wartime experiences of barbed wire on Brighton beach, my grandmother making chocolate cake with paraffin (which she assured me was delicious). And being desperately disappointed because she was too old (aged 7) to have a Mickey Mouse gas mask.  She had a boring old grey one.  Her father went off to war with a photo of his 2 darling daughters, in a leather frame.  And this leather frame (a sort of pouch) saved his life when he was shot – the bullet lodged in the leather photo frame not in him.  And he came home intact, along with his chocolate ration which he always gave to his children.

She was always unconventional, and at times rebellious. Banned from school trips for rolling down the Devil’s Dyke (a steep hill outside Brighton) during a school outing, and getting into trouble for being the only girl to jump off the school roof.  And I remember the sharp intake of breath and the raised eyebrows when in the 1970s she wore a brown velvet trouser suit to her cousin, Sarah’s wedding.

Many of you will remember her being an amazing cook.  But it wasn’t always that way.  She couldn’t cook  at all when she was first married.  My father, Derek, a classically trained chef, at the Café Royal, got fed up with coming home to the same supper every night, of kippers and banana custard, and decided to take matters in hand; he taught her to cook.  Arguably she ended up being a better cook that him, as she was so creative in how she combined ingredients, flavours and ideas, and was influence by her travels to produce beautiful food. 

She adored my father, Derek, with whom she had me, Polly and Daniel.  We moved down to Hampshire in 1963, and she set up a business she called “Dinner Parties at Home” where she cooked for dinner parties, and filled people’s freezers. In 1963, that was way ahead of her time.

Mum had a huge amount of courage and tenacity.  When she separated from my father, she had to become a bread-winner for the first time in her life.  Not an easy thing, aged 40, when you’ve hardly ever had a job.  She became manager of a small kitchen shop in Southampton, an Aladdin’s cave of beautiful and useful things for the kitchen.

But the love of her life was Thomas.  To say that she was the brains and he was the brawn is hugely over simplifying it, although he did bring that physical strength to their relationship, chopping wood, digging the garden and protecting her from the crowds when she was painting, particularly in India.  And Tom was intellectual – in his own quiet way, and interested in ideas. But whereas he thought about how to save the planet, and “interesting bits” he had read in the paper, Judy concerned herself with practical matters, like where to live, where they might travel to next, and how to make their lives work on limited resources.

She was good at that, she was intrepid, figuring out how to make the best of any situation and getting on with it.  There were various money-making and money-saving schemes over the years. 

There was Thomas’s home-made wine.  Some of it was quite drinkable, certainly good enough for every day suppers, some of it suitable only for cooking (if that), and some of it good enough to be decanted and passed off as French wine to their friends over supper.  She thought they got away with it, but perhaps you all knew all along and were too polite to say anything?

Then there was the snail farm.  That was a joint enterprise, up to a point.  What a waste, thought Thomas, to have all those snails in the garden and not harvest them.  The French eats snails, and delicious they are too, so why not us?  So Thomas collected them, lots of them, and researched how to prepare them for cooking, and my mother applied her considerable culinary prowess to producing a delicious dish of garden snails.   And they were…absolutely…disgusting!

She had a wicked, mischievous and quirky sense of humour, and a typical sight was my mother’s face crinkled with laughter, tears running down her face and gasping for breath.  There are many stories:

-trying to find the loo in Buckingham Palace with my grandmother, and ending up in the broom cupboard

– various mis-pronunciations in India (not stories suitable for church)

She used to call me Enid, and I used to call her Enid (don’t even ask!).  It all started over the cheese counter in Woolworths, for reasons, too ridiculous to recall or recount. 

Let me bring this to a close by thanking all of you, on behalf of my mother, for the love, laughter and friendship that you brought to a life well lived.

And Mum – wherever you are –  we wont ever forget you.  Your legacy lives on with all of us. 

and this tribute from Polly:

I read in the paper last weekend an article by Owen Jones, and he said:

“That whole period, the no-man’s land between life and death, of watching a parent who in your childhood appeared as an immortal deity becoming as dependent as a newborn child, of asking for a “few spoonfuls of yogurt for breakfast” before slipping away – that does disappear in time, I’m told, in favour of memories of who they once were.”

It has been an enormous privilege to have spent so much time with my darling mother over the past weeks and months, and I am so grateful that I have been able to hold her hand, look into her eyes and tell her that I love her so often.

But when I started to go through some of Mum’s papers last week, what really kick-started my grief was coming across some wonderful letters and photos.

One was from Charles Spencer, in response to a letter Mum must have written to him after the death of his sister, Diana and his tribute at her funeral.

Another was a letter she had published in the Times in 2002 on her love of sprouts. It was entitled the wonderful sprout, and was so typical Mum!

“Sir, Ann Treneman paints an unfriendly picture of the sprout. It is a delicious, sweet, nutty creature, asking only for a little care. The best of all is the home-grown sprout, nurtured with love and tenderness. When ripe and ready, pick and cook lightly, toss with butter, salt and pepper – delicious. Otherwise, chop a handful and throw them into a stir fry. Or shred and mix with red cabbage in a mustardy dressing. The list is as long as your imagination.”

There was also a gorgeous photo of eight glamorous women, called the Lunch Bunch, which was the bridge club Mum was part of for thirty years or so, and I think there are several of you here today I can see!

And I realised that in these past few years of caring for a sick, fading, elderly lady, I had forgotten what an incredible, vital, vibrant, clever, elegant, creative creature my beloved Mother had been, and she has loved life and lived it to the full, particularly in most of her thirty five years with Thomas.

My daughter, Daisy put it another way. She said: It seemed inevitable that the frail elderly lady who has been getting weaker over the past weeks was going to die, but when you remember that woman was Judy Strafford, the artist, who did all those amazing paintings, made all that incredible food and wrote that beautiful book, it hits you that that was the same person, and I’m not ready to lose her.

It is her colourful, energetic and beautiful soul that I want to remember, not the past weeks, or even months or couple of years, and this is helped by all the wonderful letters we have received and all the amazing tributes to my beautiful mother.

One of my lovely young friends wrote that she was a cracking woman, which really made me smile, and somebody else that she could be relied upon to have everybody rocking with laughter.

As Daniel said, she was a creative tour-de-force in all aspects of her life – painting and art of course, but also her clothes, her jewellery, her cooking and her home.

One of my favourites was from my step-brother Jamie who said that:

Judy was such a special person and I feel very lucky that she came into my life when she did and as she did. Her love for my dad and his love for her is one of the most beautiful things I’ve observed.

I like to think Thomas was waiting for her and they are reunited again now.

Jamie also sent me a copy of Richard Holloway, the former Bishop of Edinburgh’s book, ‘Waiting for the last bus, reflections on life and death’, in which he writes that the primary emotion at the end of a long life should not be fear, but rather gratitude. Of course there will be sorrow for what death takes from us, but dont fret, look at the beauty of a long life well lived – and be grateful.

Mum and I had many conversations about dying, and as Emma touched upon, one of her fears was that she would be forgotten. I gently reminded her that she once told me that she had thought about her beloved Mother every day, since she had died, some 27 years ago, and of course had never forgotten her. I assured her that I will do the same, she will never be forgotten – I will keep her in my heart forever.

In the week before Mum died, our main priority was to fill the room with love, calm and peace, and I am hopeful we succeeded.

None of this would have been possible, and the fact that Mum ended her days at home, looking out at her beautiful garden, looking at the Apple Tree that we see here, just like Tom did, without her wonderful carer, Liz, or lovely Liz, as I like to call her. She was and is fantastic and I will be forever grateful to her. She was so lucky to have such a fantastic network of friends who unfailingly popped into see her for a cup of tea week after week.

I would also like to take this time to thank everybody who cared for Mum – in particular, Ghouls, Colin and Mary, her doctors, district nurses, and the Alresford surgery team.

I am going to finish with something from Rumi, the thirteenth century philosopher.

Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.

Forever in my heart, Mum

Revd.  Jan Brookshaw’s address was as follows:

Love.  That’s what has emerged through the family’s selection of readings and their reflections.   When Daniel sent me his reading, which is Buddhist, I was astounded to see the theme of loving kindness.  That was because loving kindness is a core concept in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament.   In Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, the word is Hesed.  I liked the feelings behind the word that I actually called one of my dogs Hesed.  Returning to more serious matters, Hesed is one of the core ethical values of Judaism.  Some of the practices that reflect Hesed are:

Ø  love God so completely that one will never forsake His service for any reason

Ø  provide a child with all the necessities of his sustenance and love the child

Ø  visiting and healing the sick

Ø  giving charity to the poor

Ø  offering hospitality to strangers

Ø  making peace between people

Buddhism describes it as cherishing all human beings.  I think the expectations in the Jewish faith are well summed up by the Buddhist description.

Love is at the root of the New Testament too.   As John the evangelist puts it “God is love”.  Now I know that Judy, whilst bought up at Christian, was not one in her adult life.    However there is no doubt in my mind that God’s love was rooted in her even if she did not recognise it.   So it appears that whether we are Buddhist, Jewish or Christian love is one of our core values.

Love of course is a three way street.   It is only when we are open to and receive God’s love that we in turn can love others.   God’s love is freely given to us.   It is up to us whether or not we respond to it.   Our response hopefully is based on the 2nd of the two great commandments which are:  The first is to love God with all your heart, mind, body and soul and the second is to love your neighbour as yourself. 

Judy’s love certainly extended to all her neighbours and those obviously include her children and wider family.  I am told her love also extended to non-human things including her painting and puddings.  There is something else in the 2nd great commandment – to love yourself.  That sometimes is considered selfish but it is not.   God loves each one of us so how can we not love what God does love?   Also it is pretty well impossible to love other people if we do not love ourselves.  Given the love Judy had for others I am sure she did love herself.

As our Bible reading tells us, love is not just a great emotion.   For love to be real it has to show itself in our behaviour. To quote part of that reading: 

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

So if you want to have a lasting memorial of Judy live in active love with everyone you interact with.   I have framed this is Christian terms and Judy would do so in Buddhist terms but whatever terms you use, be like Judy – live love.


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